Fact or fiction?

From the pen of Janet Gover

I can remember the exact moment I decided to become a writer.

I was twelve years old, sitting with my Dad in our small bush town in Queensland, watching the news on television. There was a reporter doing a story about the weekend-long party for the opening of a new holiday resort on an island in the Great Barrier Reef. My Dad muttered in disgust that the man was being paid to spend his time lying by a swimming pool clutching a cocktail with fruit and a little paper umbrella in it. This, he declared, was not a proper job.

That was a revelation to me. You could get paid to do stuff like that? At that moment I decided journalism – particularly TV journalism was the job for me. Of course, the twelve-year-old me didn’t know that in the world of journalism, jobs on tropical islands were few and far between. Nor did I know that I would meet a Pope, be named in Parliament or fly into the heart of a cyclone.

Me as a young reporter – up to my knees in mud in the flood stricken Queensland outback.

Me as a young reporter – up to my knees in mud in the flood stricken Queensland outback.

Journalism is a great career for those of a nosy nature. Everyone I met expected me to ask questions – so I did. I listened to grisly evidence in murder trials, asked a famous movie star exactly how old she was (that didn’t go down too well) and was even threatened by a politician because I was investigating suggestions of corruption (no names here of course… I never forget a threat).

And all this time I was writing news stories. The average TV news story is less than two minutes long. Often, you get 30 seconds to tell a story. Did you know that thirty seconds is just 90 words? Seriously… this blog is already longer than many of the news stories I wrote.

With so few words, I had to learn to get right to the heart of the matter. And the other important thing I had to learn was to make nothing up… not one word. My stories had to be factual.

When I stopped writing news stories, I thought writing fiction would be easy. After all, I’d been a professional writer for more than mumble mumble years.

How wrong I was. Writing fiction is a totally different skill. The joy of being allowed to make stuff up was balanced by the sheer terror of trying to make up enough stuff to write a book.  Learning such concise and focused writing was no help at all when I was trying to write a full-length novel with all the nuances of character and emotion and plot and setting.

Those years as a journalist did help me though – because of the people I met. Yes, I met some celebs – but more importantly, I met a lot of everyday people, and listened to their stories: of success and failure; of hope and fear and of love and loss. They taught me so much about the human spirit as I watched them fight floods, overcome adversity and help each other.

People ask if the characters in my books are people I have met – and the answer is no. Not really… but the people I meet can inspire a character.

Many years ago I met an elderly Catholic nun. She worked in a children’s hospital – in a specialist burns unit. In the face of terrible suffering, she was the most gentle and serene woman I have ever met – and all these years later she is still with me.

When I wrote Flight To Coorah Creek, I wanted to give my troubled hero and heroine a mentor. Someone who believed unreservedly in the innate goodness of people. The result was Sister Luke – probably my favourite of all the characters I have written. You may recognize the name – it is a tribute to the character played by Audrey Hepburn in wonderful old film – The Nun’s Story. The Sister Luke in my book is not the nun I met all those years ago. But, with her caring nature and her desire to help those around her – in particular Jess and Adam – I hope she does some justice to my memory of a remarkable woman. There were times that I cried as I wrote this story. I hope there may be times you cry as you read it.

And that, I think, is why writing fiction gives me such joy.

Yes – it’s important to bring down a corrupt politician or to accurately report a court hearing… but to touch a human heart… that’s a very special thing. And it’s a privilege to be allowed to do it.

Janet Gover x

Available on Kindle on the 4th Feb!

Available on Kindle on the 4th Feb!